It's Not All Bad
Inflammation isn’t inherently evil. It’s the body's natural response to protect itself from damage. There are two main types: acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation occurs when you fall & cut yourself or when you become exposed to pathogens in your environment. In both of these scenarios (and similar ones), the immune system responds by sending white blood cells to protect & heal the damaged area. This causes the typical swelling & redness, a rapid & intense response that tends to last just a few days.
The same applies if you have an infection or illness - take Covid-19 for instance. Inflammation is essential in these cases — without it, simple infections can end up being life-threatening. Acute inflammation is a necessary response by the body to ensure our well-being & survival. However, problems arise when this inflammatory response becomes a chronic condition.
Chronic Inflammation: A Modern Pandemic.
Chronic inflammation is essentially slow, long-term inflammation lasting for prolonged periods of several months to years. When the body is existing in this persistent inflammatory state, the immune system is put into overdrive. This over-activity impairs the immune system, unsurprisingly leading to all sorts of serious complications. Here's a bit of context as to just how deep the issue of chronic inflammation really is:
"Chronic inflammatory diseases are the most common cause of death globally. 3 out of 5 people die due to chronic diseases - stroke, cancer, obesity, diabetes, respiratory disease, heart disorders."
And it’s not just the horrible, immediately life-threatening issues that it's at the core of. Inflammation's also a fundamental factor in depression & cognitive disorders (e.g. alzheimers), gut/intestinal issues (crohns disease & celiac disease), arthritis & joint pain, and many other common health issues seen nowadays.
Chronic inflammation lies at the root of all chronic diseases & practically all of our health problems.
So, understanding the causes, along with what we can do to address it - and therefore improve the well-being of society - ought to be pretty high up on our priority list.
The Root Causes
Several factor contribute towards systemic inflammation - the majority of which can be altered through lifestyle choices.
There are plenty of studies out there demonstrating that fat tissue secretes inflammatory mediators, thus increasing inflammation with the body. Some studies have even shown that the BMI of an individual is proportional to the amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines secreted.
We all know the harms of smoking But, on top of the traditional dangers, it's also associated with the reduced production of anti-inflammatory molecules (molecules that fight inflammation) & perpetuating further inflammation in the body.
Both physical & emotional stress are associated with inflammatory cytokine release - essentially molecules that trigger the inflammation process. Excessive high-intensity exercise, a lack of rest & recovery, staring at a screen for hours & hours each day, being stuck in traffic - all of these produce a physical stress response within the body.
Emotional stress factors might include work pressures, relationship problems, anxieties over your health or the health of a loved one, financial difficulties - basically anything that provokes a feeling of worry or concern.
Often caused by stress. Individuals with irregular sleep schedules are more likely to have chronic inflammation than consistent sleepers, meaning that sleep disorders are considered to be one of the greatest independent risk factors for chronic inflammation.
Poor sleep has so many negative effects on well-being. It contributes to obesity via hormonal disregulation, elevates cortisol production & therefore stress, & alters our ability to make rational decisions (e.g. regarding food choice).
Reducing Inflammation & Optimising Health
Addressing inflammation isn't achievable through a magic pill, nor does it happen overnight. It takes a long-term shift in behaviour and need to be approached from both ends of the rope.
Reducing your exposure to inflammatory behaviours is vital. Understand that the behaviours you're currently practicing daily aren't doing you any good (e.g. smoking, excessive processed foods, staring at a screen all day). Write down the behaviours in your current lifestyle that are likely contributing towards chronic inflammation within your body. Set the intention to eliminate or reduce these behaviours one at a time.
Add-in new behaviours that help reduce inflammation & keep your health in-check.
Eat right. Focus on consuming a diet consisting of predominantly whole foods (organic fruit & vegetables, high-quality/grass-fed meat, wild oily fish). Supplements such as vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium, & fish oil have also been linked with reducing inflammation, so it would be worth getting these in.
Value your sleep. Ideally you want to be getting around 7-8 hours each night. Set yourself a bed time that ensures this. What you do pre-sleep also has a real impact on your quality of sleep. So, try to avoid using technological devices & anything stressful for the last 30-60 minutes before bed.
Move. Exercise has so many benefits from both a physical & mental standpoint. Just by incorporating more movement into your day - whether that be from the occasional walk, or a 30 minute workout - you're going to feel less stressed, manage body weight, sleep better, and feel more inclined to take better care of yourself.
Manage stress. All of the above. Mindfulness, journalling, meditation, talking to friends & family, cutting back on screen time, exercise. Find practices that ground you - that bring your attention to the here & now. A lot of our anxieties are created by our own minds. Recognise that all you can deal with is the present. Anything beyond that is somewhat out of your control & not even here yet.
Ultimately, to begin living a lifestyle that minimses inflammation & optimises your wellbeing, I think it's important to outline what your health means to you. If feeling healthy & well is something you value, then adjusting your behaviour to reflect that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. It’s simply a case of knowing how to do so and having checks & balances in place to keep you accountable.
The important thing to remember is that change is a gradual process. Trying to introduce 101 new behaviours all at once probably isn't going to lead to sustainable change. Take it one day at a time,
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